Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bush Issues New Orders For Torture

New executive orders tell CIA which torture techniques are allowable; list of permitted and forbidden techniques remains classified.

The Boston Globe reports:

President Bush yesterday issued public orders to the CIA outlining what kinds of interrogation techniques it can use against suspected terrorists, opening a new chapter in the long-running debate over the use of harsh tactics against detainees in the war on terrorism.

Bush's executive order laid out broad guidelines for how the CIA must treat detainees in its secret overseas prisons, where the administration has held some suspects without giving them access to the Red Cross. The document prohibits a range of abuses, including "intentionally causing serious bodily injury" and "forcing the individual to perform sexual acts," as well as mistreating the Koran.

The order also said the CIA director must personally approve the use of extraordinary interrogation practices against any specific detainee. Detainees must also receive "adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care," it said.

But most of the president's executive order is written in generalities, leaving unanswered whether the CIA will be free to subject prisoners to a range of specific techniques it has reportedly used in the past, including long-term sleep disruption, prolonged shackling in painful stress positions, or "waterboarding," a technique that produces the sensation of drowning.

The administration is separately crafting a list of permitted and forbidden tactics that it said will comply with Bush's executive order, but the list is classified. In a background conference call with reporters yesterday, a senior administration official declined to say whether the new guidelines will permit tactics such as waterboarding.

"I am not in a position to talk about any specific interrogation practices," the official said. "It is impossible for us, consistent with the objectives of such a program, to publicize to the enemy what practices may be on the table and what practices may be off the table. That will only enable Al Qaeda to train against those that are on or off."

Human rights activists immediately denounced the administration's public silence about specific techniques. Leonard Rubenstein of Physicians for Human Rights said the executive order was "equivocation" that rings hollow without an explicit "repudiation of brutal and cruel interrogation methods."

He said, "The only way to restore international credibility and confidence that the US respects human rights is to specifically prohibit techniques that have been used in the past: waterboarding, sleep deprivation, isolation, death threats, use of dogs, stress positions, and temperature manipulation."

Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch said that while "there aren't any obvious loopholes" in the order, he questioned whether the administration would live up to its spirit in the classified list of approved interrogation techniques. "In effect the administration is still asking us to trust it despite all the evidence that on the question of interrogation standards, they are not particularly trustworthy," he said.

The debate over interrogations dates to the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Hoping to gather intelligence from prisoners it suspected of knowing about Al Qaeda operations, the Bush administration crafted a series of secret memos asserting that the president had the power as commander in chief of the military to authorize interrogators to bypass laws and treaties against torture.

The administration's aggressive view of that power came to light in 2004 in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Although the administration contended that it had not authorized "torture," several secret memos were leaked in which the administration discussed ways to circumvent anti abuse laws. The news ignited widespread controversy.

In December 2005, Congress passed a law clarifying that it was illegal for US officials to inflict torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment on prisoners held anywhere in the world. Bush signed the new law, but then issued a signing statement asserting that he could still authorize harsh questioning because he is the commander in chief.

Still, in June 2006, the Supreme Court held that the Geneva Conventions' basic protections for all wartime detainees covered suspected members of Al Qaeda. The court's ruling, which rejected the Bush administration's view, meant that any US officials who continued to use harsh interrogation tactics on prisoners would face the possibility of prosecution for war crimes under US law.

Because of the ruling, the CIA temporarily closed its overseas prisons and sent detainees to military custody at Guantanamo. In September 2006, Bush publicly acknowledged that the CIA had run secret prisons and subjected detainees to an "alternative set of procedures."

He called on Congress to pass a law outlining what interrogators could do under the Geneva Conventions.

In October, the then-Republican-led Congress addressed Bush's request in the Military Commissions Act. The legislation listed a specific set of practices banned by the Geneva Convention's requirements of humane treatment, including murder, rape, and biological experiments.

The act also gave the president the power to decide for himself whether the Geneva Conventions prohibit other forms of aggressive interrogation techniques. In the ensuing nine months, the National Security Council has been leading a process of developing the new interrogation rules, which were released yesterday.

At the CIA, Director Michael Hayden told agency employees that the executive order, and the accompanying set of classified instructions, would enable the agency's interrogation program at prisons to go forward.

"Bottom line: We can focus on our vital work, confident that our mission and authorities are clearly defined," Hayden said. "Throughout the long fight ahead against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, we will exploit every opportunity to expand our understanding of the enemy and his plans and use that knowledge to protect our republic."